If you could list the top things that people attribute to an aesthetically-pleasing archetypal Japanese image, it would include the likes of cherry blossoms, ramen bowls, sushi plates, bamboo groves, people clad in kimonos, and of course, the age-old, culturally-rich, symbol of history, castles.
The unique architecture and fascinating stories associated with castles are what usually what draws the attention of visitors, but it’s the intense beauty that seals the deal. You would think that, according to some of the most beautiful images of these castles, that they’re set somewhere far away from civilisation, devoid of immense crowds and as peaceful as they come, but that’s not quite the case.
Most castles are, in fact, located right in the middle of major cities, accessible by only a short walk from the station.
The most popular times during the year would be spring, during the blooming of the cherry blossoms, as there’s nothing quite like seeing the grand structure of a castle for the first time, framed by a thousand gorgeous pink flowers.
The second most popular time would (arguably) be either during the autumn koyo season, when the leaves change from green to sunburnt orange and create a sea of crusty leaves carpets the country for a few weeks in late autumn, or during the winter season, when pure snow clings to the roofs of the castles.
Some of the castles we’ve listed below have been fully renovated, whilst others have survived the test of time and are still standing in its original form. To make the most of your trip, we highly recommend adding a few castles to visit during your stay, not only for the epic pictures, but to learn a tiny fraction of Japan’s colourful history as well.
The 10 Best Castles in Japan
Here’s our list of the 10 most beautiful castles that we recommend you to visit in Japan. We included a map below so you can locate them and include them in your Japan itinerary.
- Matsumoto Castle
- Odawara Castle
- Nagoya Castle
- Osaka Castle
- Wakayama Castle
- Himeji Castle
- Okayama Castle
- Bitchu Matsuyama Castle
- Matsue Castle
- Kumamoto Castle
1. Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle, located in Nagano prefecture, is also commonly known as the ‘Crow Castle’ due to its unique yet grand black exterior. It’s a ‘hirajiro’ type castle, which means that it was originally built on the planes rather than on a hill or a mountain, unlike many others.
One of its most distinguishable aspects is that it also has a ‘donjon’, or secondary tower, within its main keep. Whilst it has been renovated in the past, it’s maintained its wooden structure appeal, which gives it an authentic ambience. There are amazing views over the city which can be sought from inside the castle on the sixth floor. It’s especially popular during spring.
- Address: 4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0873, Japan
- Access: 15-minute walk from Matsumoto Station.
- Hours: 8:30am- 4:30pm
Accommodation Recommendations Near Matsumoto Castle
A budget accommodation option nearby would be the tabi-shiro. It’s a no-frills accommodation, with everything you need for a comfortable stay, including free Wi-Fi, on-site bar, cheap add-on breakfast, and is situated just minutes away from the station and Matsumoto Castle.
A more premium alternative would be Oiwakeya Ryokan. It’s a 4-star hotel which includes all necessary amenities and additionally boasts a public onsen both indoor and outdoor, traditional kaiseki meals for its guests, and optional massage and facial services.
For more traditional inns recommendations, feel free to check out our selection of the best Ryokans in Matsumoto.
2. Odawara Castle
Located in the city of Hakone, roughly an hour away from Tokyo, Odawara Castle is one of the aforementioned victims of being destroyed by natural disasters (an earthquake in 1703). Post-disaster, it was re-built superbly and stood tall and proud for more than 100 years before it was unfortunately dismantled and the keep and other parts of the castle were sold (which is not exactly a usual activity in Japan).
In 1960, it was again re-built (this time using models and drawings from history), and is what it is today. Inside, you will learn through exhibits and displayed artefacts of the rich history of the castle. You’ll also be able to capture gorgeous views from the top floor.
- Address: Jonai, Odawara, Kanagawa 250-0014, Japan
- Access: 10-minute walk from Odawara Station (East Exit).
- Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Accommodation Recommendations Near Odawara Castle
Situated only 3-minutes away from Odawara Castle, the Odawara Guest House Samurai Oyado is a great guesthouse to stay if you’re looking for something basic yet clean, affordable yet well-equipped. It has a restaurant on-site, provides free toiletries, and offers free Wi-Fi to all guests.
The Hinode Ryokan is a more traditional option, offering Japanese style guest rooms equipped with tatami mats, sitting areas, a little courtyard, and most importantly, tranquillity.
3. Nagoya Castle
Nagoya Castle is another one with an incredibly rich history, one that features many highs and lows. Whilst its exact origin is unknown, it is believed to have been conceived around the 1500s and was known to be named differently back then. In the 1700s, it officially became the Nagoya Castle that it is today, however, during the US army air raids around the turbulent World War II times, it was destroyed and had to be rebuilt again.
A distinguishing feature about Nagoya Castle is its gorgeous design and paintings within castle’s palace’s entrance and reception halls – it’s considered to be one of the best examples of Shoin Architecture in Japan. If you visit this castle, you will see individuals dressed up in historical period attire and learn about its history.
*Please note: The castle’s main keep has been closed since May 2018 for a renovation that is to be completed by December 2022.
- Address: 1-1 Honmaru, Naka Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 460-0031, Japan
- Access: From Nagoya Station, take the Meguru tourist loop bus. It will take 25-minutes, and cost 210 yen.
- Hours: 9:00am – 4:30pm
Accommodation Recommendations Near Nagoya Castle
As Nagoya Castle is situated right in the middle of the city, it has a plethora of accommodation options conveniently located near it for guests. For a cheap option, opt for the Café Guest House Nagonoya, located less than 15-minute walk away from the castle. It offers dorm rooms as well as private guest rooms, and is located only 5-minutes from Kokusai Centre Subway.
However, for a premium living experience, the Kyoya Ryokan nearby is a superb option. It’s a 3-star ryokan that looks and feels more like 5-star, with spacious, well-equipped and furnished rooms, gorgeous onsens, and delicious Japanese cuisine.
4. Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle is definitely one of the most popular and celebrated castles in Japan. I mean, it’s located right in Osaka City, so it’s almost a rite of passage for first-timers visiting Osaka to pay this glorious and gorgeous castle a visit during their stay. With a history that includes the likes of being built by one family, only to be destroyed by another family, rebuilt, and then destroyed again by lightning, you can imagine the stories you would see, read, and hear beyond its walls.
The castle that stands today was one that was rebuilt in 1931, and further renovated in 1997. Whilst it does retain a fairly historic look, the insides of the castle has lent itself to more modern conveniences and displays of history, including an elevator for easy access, 3D pictures, holograms, and other technologies used to spruce up its storytelling.
- Address: 1-1 Osakajo, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 540-0002, Japan
- Access: From Osaka Station, take the train to Osakajokoen Station, and walk 15-minutes.
- Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Accommodation Recommendations Near Osaka Castle
As you can imagine, the city of Osaka, one of the biggest in all of Japan, has plenty of guestroom options to choose from. However, one that we would recommend is the Osaka Anko Guest House, located right next to the station. It’s situated within close distance to a plethora of well-known popular attractions, and has been described by past guests as supremely comfortable, super clean, convenient, and great value for money.
For even more convenience, and a bit more of a luxurious stay, check out Hotel Osaka Castle, located only 1km away from the castle itself, and offering little comforts such as free Wi-Fi, private en-suite bathrooms, options of the beauty parlour and in-room massages, and – get this – it’s interconnected within a shopping mall!
5. Wakayama Castle
A quaint, quiet addition to the list, Wakayama Castle is mainly visited by those who are already conveniently in the area and want to build on their itinerary. However, that’s not to say that it’s not impressive or full of life at all. In fact, if you base it on the exterior alone, this gorgeous white castle is quite a sight for sore eyes. It also boasts gorgeous pond onsite, a waterfall, and even the Wakayama Museum of Modern Art – how about that! It’s one of the less visited options, but is equally as beautiful (if not more) as the more popular cherry blossom and momiji viewing spots in Japan.
- Address: 3 Ichibancho, Wakayama, 640-8146, Japan
- Access: From Nankai Wakayami-shi STation, it is a 10-minute walk.
- Hours: 9:00am – 4:30pm
Accommodation Recommendations Near Wakayama
You wouldn’t imagine it right off the bat, but one of the best guesthouses in the humble city of Wakayama might possibly be one of the chicest guest houses you’ll ever come across. Guesthouse Rico offers timber flooring, industrial decor, wooden tones throughout – and you even get the option of choosing either dormitory rooms or Japanese-style rooms fitted with tatami mats. It’s a guesthouse full of character.
However, as many of you may know, Wakayama is the sight of the famous temple stays, so why not opt for that instead? We (and many others) highly recommend Jokiin, a temple stay right in the middle of Koyasan that provides all the premium amenities, wrapped up in one authentic temple stay – all without missing a beat.
Read More: The 15 Most Unique Torii Gates In Japan
6. Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle is probably one of the most aesthetic castles in Japan. Its beauty has even earned it the nickname ‘The White Heron Castle’ due to its elegant white appearance which makes it look as though it’s an egret bird taking flight. Its actual structure might also be the grandest, boasting more than eighty different buildings which make up the grounds, which are interconnected by various gates and pathways.
And if that’s not impressive enough, it’s actually 1 of only twelve castles across Japan still standing in its original structure. Even during the turbulent times of World War II, whilst all surrounding areas of the castle were destroyed in war efforts, the castle emerged unscathed. Even though it has been renovated throughout its life, it’s still an original – a feat in itself! As you can imagine, this white castle is just stunning during the cherry blossom season, drawing in thousands over the course of spring to its grounds for photos and picnics.
- Address: 68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo 670-0012, Japan
- Access: From Himeji Station, it is a 15 to 20-minute walk down Otemae-dori Street.
- Hours: 9:00am – 4:00pm
Accommodation Recommendations near Himeji Castle
For an accommodation that will feel like your home away from home, the Shironoshita Guesthouse is a great option. Located within walking distance to Himeji Castle (literally a few minutes’ walk away), this guesthouse offers a no-frills, all basic necessities provided option for those who are on a budget yet want convenience. It’s also close to the Mount Shosha Ropeway.
For a more premium option, the Himeji Castle Grandvrio Hotel is a luxurious accommodation located in Himeji City, offering above and beyond services and amenities such as gorgeous public onsen, hot tubs, massage services, free Wi-Fi, a library, a quiet and relaxing lounge, and authentic Japanese meals.
7. Okayama Castle
Originally built more than four centuries ago, Okayama Castle is one of many castles located in Okayama that’s full of history. Its most famous neighbour is Himeji Castle, and the two are often contrasted, as Okayama Castle stands in stark difference with its black exterior, earning it the nickname ‘crow castle’.
It took 20 years to build, but as history has it, its owner was captured just three years after it was finished. The original castle itself was destroyed during WWII, with only one original structure surviving. It was reconstructed in the 1960s, and now features air-conditioning and elevators inside. There are plenty of displays and exhibits inside to learn more about the history of the castle.
One of best place to enjoy a view on Okayama castle is from Korakuen garden which is part of our top 10 japanese gardens in Japan!
- Address: 2 Chome-3-1 Marunouchi, Kita Ward, Okayama, 700-0823, Japan
- Access: It is a 25 to 30 minute walk from Okayama Station. Otherwise, take the tram to Shiroshita Stop (5-minutes, 100 yen), and walk for 10 to 15 minutes.
Accommodation Recommendations Near Okayama Castle
As you would have it, one of the best guesthouses to stay at if you’re looking for some affordable accommodation nearby to the castle is actually called ‘Cozy Hostel! Conveniently located in the middle of Kita Ward, close by to plenty of other attractions such as the Sky Mall 21 Shopping Street, the Momotaro Statue, and the Kongo-ji Temple, Cozy Hostel offers a 24/hour front desk, free Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, a spacious shared kitchen, and English-speaking staff for your convenience.
For a more traditional stay, check out Soncho-san no le, a quaint ryokan located few minutes away from Okayama castle by train. It offers peaceful garden views and a terrace to relax in. There’s also a bike rental service onsite.
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8. Bitchu Matsuyama Castle
This castle is also located in Okayama. Whilst it’s relatively unknown to foreign tourists (Okayama Castle takes the prize), it’s quite popular amongst locals due to the fact that it’s located at an altitude of 460m above sea level. Because of its unique location, often at times it will appear as though it’s floating above the clouds, especially during the early mornings of fall and winter seasons. It is the most popular during autumn for the momiji leaves.
- Address: 1 Uchisange, Takahashi, Okayama 716-0004, Japan
- Access to Bitchu Matsuyama Castle: From Bitchu Takahashi train station, you will need to take a shared taxi which costs 600 yen per person (one way). There are 4 departures every day at 9.50am, 11:20am, 00:50pm and 2:20 pm and you will need to book a spot beforehand by contacting this number – 0866-22-8666.
- Hours: 9:00am – 5:30pm (April to September) and 9am – 4:30pm (October to March）
Accommodation Recommendations Near Bitchu Matsuyama
One of the cutest accommodation choices on this list, staying at Guesthouse YAWARA is like staying at your home away from home. Here, you will be treated like family, and the close living quarters will seem very cozy indeed. It offers free bike rental, free parking, and free Wi-Fi.
Otherwise if you’re looking for a place with a lot of personal space, Sun Road Kibiji, located a little further away, offers Japanese style rooms as well as western style rooms within a massive hotel complex that also offers buffet breakfast and public onsen pools.
9. Matsue Castle
Matsue Castle is one of the very few castles across the entire nation that’s still standing in its original wooden structure today. It luckily escaped destruction as it was built a few years after the great war of feudal Japan. Nowadays it serves as a gorgeous castle to explore in the Sanin region (it’s actually the only one left standing there!), even though the only thing remaining now is the castle tower.
You can tour the main keep and explore the grounds here, but there is also the additional option of taking a river boat cruise around the castle moat, making this a unique experience indeed! The boats depart every 20 to 30 minutes from random departure points around the castle, and you can listen as the boatmen and boat women share the castle’s history as they manoeuvre the boats.
- Address: 1-5 Tonomachi, Matsue, Shimane 690-0887, Japan
- Access: It is a 30-minute walk from JR Matsue STation, or a 15-minute walk from Ichibata Dentetsu’s Matsue-Shinjiko-Onsen Station.
- Hours: 8:30am – 6:30pm
Accommodation Recommendations Near Matsue Castle
Located only 400m away from Matsue Castle, the Kitatono Guest House takes you away from the hustle and bustle of the city life and lets you enjoy peaceful views of the city, free bike rental, free Wi-Fi, all within a super cozy and clean environment. However, it’s close to a range of activities and attractions so feel free to step out whenever you want.
For a similar experience but within a Japanese style accommodation, KIAN in Matsue provides all the creature comforts you need within a quaint, clean, convenient building, served by a friendly host.
10. Kumamoto Castle
We saved the best for last. Kumamoto Castle is actually considered one of the most impressive castles in the whole country. Its ground is relatively huge, making it exciting to explore, and whilst the majority of its structures, including the main castle keep, have been completely reconstructed, it’s still a beautiful historic site that offers visitors plenty to see and do. Most of the reconstructions have been made to the highest quality, and new buildings are being continually added to the site. It’s extremely popular during the cherry blossom and koyo season.
*Please note that the castle itself has been heavily affected by the earthquakes in 2016, and whilst you can still visit the main keep on Sundays, public holidays, and some Saturdays, majority of the time it is closed to the public. The exterior can still be viewed. It is expected to reopen in Spring 2021.
- Address: 1-1 Honmaru, Chuo Ward, Kumamoto, 860-0002, Japan
- Access: Kumamoto Castle is located right in the city centre, so it’s within walking distance from a number of attractions and stations. Otherwise, if you take the tram to Kumamoto City Hall Station, it is only a few minutes away.
- Hours: Sundays, national holidays, and selected Saturdays from 9:00am – 5:00pm
Accommodation Recommendations Near Kumamoto Castle
As Kumamoto Castle is located right in the city centre, you’re actually quite spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation. However, if you’re looking for an affordable budget place to stay, check out Guesthouse Tiga. It’s only 1.3km away from the castle, and a 5-minute walk from Suidocho station. It offers parking space, free Wi-Fi, a comfortable common lounge, and even an onsite Japanese restaurant on the 2nd floor.
If you’re after something a bit more flashy, Kumamoto Hotel Castle is the place to be. It offers western style and Japanese style bedding styles to choose from, however each room is furnished impeccably. Guestrooms are large and spacious, and some offer amazing views of the castle itself!
After reading this, it might seem almost rude to visit any area in Japan without adding a historic castle onto the itinerary. Japan is full of life and culture, and what better way to learn about this than through exploring some of the still-standing (or renovated!) structures from olden Japan that will speak volumes about the country’s rich history.
If you still have time to visit more castles in Japan, you can also visit Hikone located near Kyoto !